River Festival

Regatta’s goal: To float your cardboard boat

A new event at the Wichita River Festival this year mixes creativity with ingenuity. Sunday’s Cardboard Regatta contest will allow teams to assemble their own vessels to float down the Arkansas River. It’s an activity that tips its hat to tradition while bringing fresh fun to the occasion.

“It’s part of our throwback day, which means anyone with a button from any year can get in free on Sunday,” said Ann Keefer, the festival’s vice president of program development. “We did this event specifically because of that. People want the festival to feel like it used to. This event will have that feel of what people fondly remember.”

The contest is an evolution of sorts of the bathtub races, which were discontinued in 2008 because of declining participation and the prohibitive costs involved with making the boats.

Keefer noted that constructing water vessels out of cardboard is more economical and will likely attract more interest from the public. While it won’t satisfy everyone who misses the bathtub races, she thinks the event will bring the right blend of nostalgia and new energy.

It also fits well into the festival’s mission to fully engage people with the Arkansas River. If it goes well, organizers may look at canoe races in the future to satisfy the interests of more industrious boaters.

The rules are relatively simple. Up to 12 teams will be able to participate, and teams can have any number of people. There is no minimum age requirement, but everyone involved must sign a liability waiver, and anyone racing must be able to fit into the lifejacket that the festival will provide.

Those wishing to compete may begin signing up at noon Sunday under the Douglas Avenue Bridge at the Arkansas River. There is no entry fee.

The boat-making will commence at 1 p.m., when teams will be given a stack of large cardboard boxes, duct tape, box cutters and two jumbo-sized pool noodles. They’ll have two hours to construct their vessel. The vessels may be creatively designed, with teams allowed to bring paint, markers or other decorations to make them stand out.

The goal, of course, is to get the boat to float. One person from each team will be chosen to race on the river in a timed contest that begins at 3 p.m. underneath the Douglas Avenue Bridge. All canoes, kayaks and paddleboats in the river at that time will come to a standstill to allow for maximum safety of the participants.

There will be staggered start times for the races, with three boats launching at a time, for a total of four waves. The vessel that stays afloat the longest will win a trophy that Keefer claims will be coveted by all who participate. Other prizes will be given, such as an award for creativity.

“Since this is the first year we’ve done this, we are trying to make it as simple and safe as we possibly can,” Keefer said. “Strategically, teams should think about who is the lightest member they have. You want to be able to float as long as possible.”

Keefer said the event is a great team-building exercise for businesses, schools, youth groups, nonprofits, families and friends. It’s a way for groups of people to work together on a common goal, build comradery and have fun in the process.

“It’s all about fun,” she said. “It’s all for the glory … and trophy.”